The grey, veinlike road would have been perfectly straight, if it weren’t for a curious kink. Although it was a fantastic kink; it reminded me very much of a giant’s finger knuckle; especially as it doubled as a rare and joyous bump in the road.
Towards one end of this mile-long strip, crumbled a derelict pig farm where dowts of wild cats taunted the innocent ghosts of forgotten swine. Its window were mostly smashed and gangs of tardy pear trees gathered suspiciously in the looming shadows of astute old chestnuts.
Huddled at the other end — beyond the Giant’s Knuckle and the estate of feral cats — were a pair of silent two-storey houses. One was my home, Elland House; pebble-dashed and painted pale yellow. Slightly offset across the road was its opposite; a red-brick shell of sufferance. I spent countless hours sneaking around that rufous house, clambering awkwardly through its eerie belly. Both houses overlooked flat, stubbly crop fields which swayed or swooned in the appropriate season; while forever in the distance, appearing to be zipped to the horizon, were a string of neighbours’ house’s.
I was ten years old, half way between my arrival on Glinton Road, and the day I left it behind.
During the long nights I would stand and stare at a fizzling of brave stars. As many children still believe, these were the souls of the dead; my five grandparents and a young boy all looked out for me on those quiet, wintry nights.
My chosen transport was a bright yellow and electric blue mountain bike. Given any opportunity I would load it up with rods and reels and swerve my way to a nearby river, quickly tangling myself in fishing line while cursing those slippery fish.
This was my Kingdom; the English hamlet of Milking Nook, in the secretive features of the Fens. Over the following years the pig farm became the stage for my first chokes on B&H; the red-brick house was restored by a spoilsport and Princess Diana regretfully completed the Plough.
By the time I reached eighteen, the tilting grey driveway of Elland House became a graveyard to my get-rich-quick schemes. A bottle green mini, a Renault 5, two Ford Fiestas, a Seat Ibiza and a couple of young Peugeot’s became carriers for grander plans. Meanwhile, behind the cherry red doors of our double garage stood a lifeless fruit machine, two scooters, and a stash of Zippo lighters.
My modest bedroom was littered annually with entry forms to my Fantasy Football competition; and towers of photography magazines huddled in wardrobes above dog-eared pornos. During my first month working at a magazine publisher, I cleared out hundreds of their unwanted back issues, straight into my bedroom. Inadvertently, I’d emulated my mother’s famous ways — and I consistently failed to make a penny.
A year before I left England, my parents sold Elland House. My three siblings and I had already fled the family home, and my parents headed off travelling. I was torn with mixed emotions.
I would never again climb the nobbled trunk of our warm-hearted walnut tree. Nor would I lark around in hailstorms pretending I was a pirate of the seven seas. I would never be slammed to the floor in a judo battle with my younger sister, in front of an audience of teenage friends. I would never brave the cold of the outside pool to slay our nonchalant — slightly deflated — killer whale. I would never again curse my parents for making me live in a hamlet, miles from my nearest friend. Nor would I fill its driveway with rusty dreams.
Instead, I would take the gift of freedom and sell it to the world. In exchange I would tangle myself in cultures, and charge around far spookier houses. I would clamber up hills to view a hundred tiny hamlets and I would always wonder if the stray cats I see, are chasing pigs between the shadows of the underworld.
This post was inspired by the empowering words of David Steindl-Rast, a 20th-century philosopher-monk cited by Andrea Schulte-Peevers in Lonely Planet’s fabulous photography book, One People;
Home is where we start from, but home is also where we are bound for, the place we always seek.